Yesterday afternoon, more than 1,000 people from 20 states came by bus, train, and plane to the Showdown in Chicago to deliver the message "Enough is Enough" to the American Bankers Association at their annual convention.
At the opening session, story after story spoke to the pain and frustration that the American people are feeling. Whether it was Ferol Wegner, an 81-year-old, widowed retiree from Des Moines who described how she lost 30 percent of her pension or Mitzi-Rivers Singleton from Wichita who passionately detailed how she was taken to the cleaners by payday lenders. Amanda Pascal of Syracuse described how she was ripped off by a predatory lender and lost her home.
Showdown attendees then swarmed the ABA "Bankers Ball" at the Sheraton hotel with the simple message: Enough is Enough!
Enough with sky-high credit card interest rates.
Enough with stealth overdraft fees.
Enough with foreclosing on families every 13 seconds.
And enough with the same banks that created this crisis, putting a boot on the neck of the American Dream by lobbying to kill common sense reforms that would protect people and prevent a future meltdown.
The big banks and their lobbyists have had their way in Washington for decades. Their drive to deregulate the financial markets has failed miserably. It is time for new ideas - and the incredibly diverse crowd of everyday Americans gathered in Chicago tonight put forth a set of clear proposals.
• A Consumer Financial Protection Agency that protects people from bad financial products. As the Rev. Tony Pierce of Peoria, IL said, the government can make sure our milk is safe, they can surely make sure financial products are safe.
• Break Up the Big Banks. JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Citigroup have become too big and too unaccountable. As Keya Alvarez from Springfield, MA said, the only thing that is too big to fail is the American people.
• Allow judges to modify mortgages to prevent foreclosures. We are on track for well over 2 million families to lose their home, but this simple policy change at the federal level would stop the fallout. As the Rev. Barnes of Champaign, IL said, America can do better.
The Showdown in Chicago has only begun. Today starts at 9:00 a.m. with FDIC Chair Sheila Bair addressing the crowd. Then, at 10:30 a.m., people will gather outside the Chicago headquarters of Goldman Sachs to demand that they donate their estimated $23 billion 2009 bonus pool to programs to prevent foreclosures and rebuild communities.
But it's not over then. At noon the crowd will grow and we will return to the American Bankers Association conference. And then, on Tuesday, more than 5,000 people will march back to the ABA's Convention. If you've had enough with bank bailouts, bonuses, and a hijacked democracy, it's not too late to the join the Showdown.